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Was HotS the right choice for IEM WC?

Posted by Radoslav "Nydra" Kolev 1 year, 19 weeks ago

If this was any other event we probably wouldn’t be asking this particular question. Every other premier tournament in 2013 will commence after March 12, so choosing Heart of the Swarm for them is a no brainer. At the same time, the recently completed GSL season started way too early to have HotS as a discipline so needless to say they made the right choice as well.

And here comes IEM Hanover, held in the week of March 5-9, or seven days before the official Heart of the Swarm release and less than a month after it was officially announced that it will be played entirely on the new expansion. A tournament that is independent by itself but still a part of a WoL-exclusive Season 7 legacy. Overall, it all brought a lot of questions: is the game even balanced enough, have players actually had enough time to learn past the basics, and is such a raw release fit for the grand conclusion of one of the largest eSports circuits in the world? The entire StarCraft community had thus fixed its judging eyes upon it so, simply put, the tournament was between a rock and a hard place.

8541427873_63e9a22b24.jpgYoDa approves of the new Terran
If we start answering the questions from the previous paragraph one by one, one very negative picture quickly takes form. As Heart of the Swarm saw very little tournament exposure before making an appearance at IEM WC, it arrived with match-ups that were extremely tilted to one side or the other. TvP appeared to highly favor Terran, in PvZ it was Protoss who enjoyed the upper hand, and TvZ was only kind of OK with Zerg again in disadvantage. This short resume of the state of balance was supported by players and casters alike with quotes like “Unit X is just too strong” appearing quite often during our interviews. Looking at IEM WC from afar, it seemed like it was races winning the games, not players.

Speaking of players, many considered picking Heart of the Swarm over Wings of Liberty a bad idea.

“I understand ESL’s perspective that a new game will attract new viewers,” said Dario “TLO” Wünsch, but if we consider the competitive side of things, the tournament should have stayed on WoL.”

One can of course understand this position: the announcement that IEM WC will be played on HotS came a little bit too late and in the middle of an active WoL season, meaning the better part of the competitors were still practicing the old game. Some, like EG’s Ilyes “Stephano” Satouri, even told us that they only played a couple of games and gathered whatever HotS knowledge they possess from watching VODs instead.

While unpreparedness of the player base is certainly a problem to consider, it did not end there. Pedro “Lucifron” Moreno Durán pointed towards the discrepancy between the previous tournaments leading to the grand finals (all played on Wings of Liberty) and the World Championship itself (played on Heart of the Swarm), as well as the one week of beta downtime that disrupted the practice regime even of those few players that were focusing on Heart of the Swarm and not Wings of Liberty.

8531634634_868fcf2d41.jpgThe dreaded Brood Lord/Infestor composition was one of the main culprits of the stagnation during 2012
Several industry insiders, however, stood in complete opposition to the players’ viewpoint and labeled the choice of Heart of the Swarm as the right thing to do. To them, new game meant new experiences and new beginning for competitive StarCraft 2, a way to rekindle the interest in a game that struggled with oversaturation, stagnation and declining streaming numbers for the better part of 2012. Renowned eSports journalist and Cadred.org editor in chief Richard Lewis took time to expand on this position:

“I think it was definitely the right decision. At the end of WoL, we saw the game oversaturating and stagnating, every match was the same, people got bored and that was partly the reason for the decline in stream numbers. But HotS is a new game, it’s the future, it’s interesting. And on imbalance and not the players winning the matches: most of the players have only had like 15 days of practice, we don’t even have a clear understanding of what imbalance is. Furthermore, there was imbalance in WoL as well and it was in part that imbalance that caused the stagnation because it worked so well for the players that they didn’t need to figure out the game further.”

While it was obvious that the viewer base will remain satisfied by being given something new and exciting to watch, this only solved one half of the problem: The players’ concerns were still hanging in the air, seemingly unaddressed by IEM. If this was competitive gaming, shouldn’t the viewpoint of the actual competitors carry some weight?

To explain IEM’s position, we approached the event’s host Paul “ReDeYe” Chaloner and we learned that their research prior to announcing HotS as official IEM WC game showed that players who were approached for their opinions were already fed up with Wings of Liberty, and though they were still actively playing it at tournaments, it was Heart of the Swarm they were practicing at home.

“In the end, you can’t please everybody,” said Chaloner. “If we had announced this to be a WoL tournament, half of the players would’ve said “You should make it HotS”. And now, the other half will say that WoL would’ve been better. Ultimately, we laid out the pluses and minuses and in the end the former were more than the latter.”

9071-1362663842.JPGSo was Heart of the Swarm the right choice after all? I must admit I approached this decision split very much down the middle, both eager to experience the new game and being fully aware that this will partially hurt the players who flew to Hanover the last week. For the better part of the time, I was convinced that the latter outweighed the former in terms of importance. I wanted to see fair, tested, known match-ups, strategies that had already been laid out and didn’t make players go “How the fuck do I counter that?” I wanted to see a conclusion that was coherent with the rest of the circuit, and using the much uncharted Heart of the Swarm made me restless.

By taking a step back and examining things from afar, however, I shifted into the other direction. The fair and tested match-ups were too tested and not entirely fair anyway. The laid out strategies were already boring to me and many other viewers. And a WoL conclusion would only come in conflict with the GSL finals played the very same day, essentially barring IEM WC from being something special.

Ultimately, it’s as ReDeYe said: People are going to complain regardless. I’d much rather see them complaining about the future and not the past.

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